|Source||Henry C.K. Liu|
|I apologize for bringing flame to pen-l. Still, labeling a great revolutionary an
evil murderer understandably will evoke passionate response, making
"ultra-rightist idiot" a rather mild refute by comparison.
I owe the list a serious summation of Mao's role in the Great Leap Forward.
In order to change Chinese feudal society towards Communist social order, which is
understood by Communists as a necessary goal of human development, Mao developed
specific methods out of Leninist concepts which renedered special characteristics
to Chinese Communism, its strengths and shortcomings. These methods, above all
the system of organized mass movements, stress the change of social consciousness,
i.e. the creation of new men for a new society, as the basis for changing reality,
i.e. the mode of production. The concept of the mass politics, relevant in
Chinese political thought from ancient time, plays a role as important as that of
the elite cadre corps within the Party.
The mass movement as an instrument of political communication from above to below
is peculiar to Chinese Communist organization. This phenomenon is of utmost
importance in understanding the nature and dynamics of the governmental structure
of the Communists Party of China (CPC). The theoretical foundation of mass
movement as a means of mediation between the will of the leaders and the people
presupposes that nothing is impossible for the masses, quantitatively understood
as a collective subject, if their power is concentrated by a Party of correct
thought and action. This concept comes out of Mao's romantic faith in the great
strength the masses are capable of developing in the interest of their own
well-being. So the "will of the masses" has to be articulated by the masses and
within the masses. This the CPC calls the "mass line".
Mao's mass line theory requires that the leadership elite be close to the people,
that it is continuously informed about the people's will and that it transforms
this will into concrete actions by the masses.
>From the masses - back to the masses! This means: take the scattered and
unorganized ideas of the masses and, through study, turn them into focused and
systemic programs, then go back to the masses and propagate and explain these
ideals until the masses embrace them as their own.
Thus mass movements are initiated at the highest level, announced to Party cadres
at central and regional work conferences, subject to cadre criticism and modified,
after which starts the first phase of mass movement. Mass organizations are held
to provoke the "people's will", through readers' letters to newspapers and rallies
at which these letters are read and debated. The results are then officially
discussed by the staff of leading organs of the state and the Party, after which
the systematized "people's will" is clarified into acts of law or resolutions, and
then the mass movement spreads to the whole nation. Until the Cultural Revolution,
the history of Chinese politics is a history of mass movements.
Mass movements successfully implemented Land Reform 1950-53; Marriage Reform
1950-52; Collectivization 1953 - the General Line of Socialist Transformation
(from national bourgeois democratic revolution to proletarian socialist
revolution); Nationalization 1955 (from private ownership of industrial means of
production into state ownership). The method against opposition was thought
reform through "brain washing" (without the derogatory connotation), which is a
principle of preferring to change the consciousness of political opponents instead
of physically liquidating them.
The Hundred Flower Movement, 1957 was launched on February by Mao with his famous
4-hour speech; "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People" before
1,800 leading cadres. In it, Mao distinguished "contradiction between the enemy
from "contradiction among the people" which should not be resolved by a
dictatorship, i.e. physical force, but by open discussion with criticism and
Up until 1957, the mass movement policies of Mao achieved spectacular success.
Land reform was completed, the struggle for women's emancipation was progressing
well, and collectivization and nationalization was leading the nation into
socialism. Health services were a model of socialist construction in both cities
and the countryside. The Party's revolutionary leadership was accepted by
By 1958, agriculture production almost doubled from 1949 (108 million tons to 185
million tons), coal production quadrupled to 123 million tons, steel production
grew from 0.1 million tons to 5.3 million tons.
The only problem came from bourgeois intellectual rebellion.
On May 25, 1957 Mao expressed his anxiety at a session of the Standing Committee
of the Politburo, and gave his approval to those who warned against too much
That afternoon, Mao said at a Conference of Communists Youth League cadres that
"all words and deeds which deviate from socialism are basically wrong".
At the opening session of the Peoples Congress on June 26, Zhou Enlai initiated
the "counter criticism" against the critics.
Mao's call for open criticism was serious and genuine, but the discussion he had
conceived of as a safety-valve reached a degree of intensity he had not
anticipated. Mao over-estimated the stability of the political climate.
Against this background, the CPC stood at the crossroad of choosing the Soviet
model of development or an independent path.
Economy development was based on three elements:
1) Build up heavy industry at the expense of agriculture.
2) The establishment of an extensive system of individual incentives by mean of
which productive forces could be developed from a conviction that the superiority
of socialist modes of production would be vindicated by visible rise in living
3) The acceleration of the socialist transformation of society in order to create
the precondition required by the CPC for establishing a socialist order.
Two paths were opened to the CPC leadership in 1958:
1) a phase of consolidation
2) pushing forward toward permanent revolution.
Mao was forced by geopolitical conditions (withdrawal of Soviet aid and US
embargo) to overcome the lack of capital through mobilization of China's vast
labor reservoir. The strategy was to connect political campaigns to production
Under pressure from orthodox Leninists within the Party apparatus, with the
failure of the "Hundred Flower Movement", Mao concluded it was impossible to
create a socialist consciousness through a gradual improvement of material living
conditions; that consciousness and reality had to be changed concurrently and in
conjunction through gigantic new efforts at mobilization.
This led to the Anti-Rightist Campaign 1957-58 followed by "Three Red Banner" in
Spring 1958 initiating simultaneous development of industry and agriculture
through the use of both modern and traditional methods of production under the
"General Line of Building Socialism". It was to be implemented through a labor
intensive development policy by a "Great Leap Forward" and by establishing a
comprehensive collectivization by establishing "People's Communes".
The GLP was not as senseless as some suggest. It called for the new system of
"Two Decentralizations, Three Centralizations, One Responsibility." By this it was
meant the decentralized use of labor and local investment, central control over
political decisions, planning and administration of natural investment capital and
one responsibility meant every basic unit to account for itself to its supervising
unit. The GLP was successful in many areas. The one area that failed attracted
the most attention. It was the area of backyard steel furnace production. The
technological requirement of steel making, unlike hydro-electricity, did not lend
itself to labor intensive mass movements. Yet steel was the symbol of
industrialization and a heroic attempt had to be made to overcome the lack of
capital. The attempt failed conspicuously, but its damage to the economy was
The real test however, was in the People's Commune. Favorable weather conditions
produced high yields in 1958 in the experimental communes. This led to a rush
nationwide to follow suit, even though almost everywhere the fundamental
preconditions for successful operation were absent. Most did not have adequate
administrative offices, nurseries, canteens, old peoples homes, hospitals, etc.
In other places, the local leadership took the transition to communism at face
value and severed all connection with supervising organs in the name of the
withering away of the state. Disorder grew into chaos within months.
During the Wuhan Party Plenum, December 1958, Marshal Peng Dehuai criticized the
over-extended commune program which led to the Plenum initiating a readjustment of
the "Three Red Banner" policy. Conccurrently the Central Committee approved "the
wish of Comrade Mao Zedong not to stand again as a candidate for the Chairmanship
of the PRC after the end of his term in office".
Liu Shaoqi was elected as head of state by the second People's Congress on April
27, 1959 and became heir apparent after Mao in the Party.
In the fateful Lushan conference July 2-August 16 1959, Marshal Peng shifted his
criticism from policy to the person of the leader. On July 23, Mao in an emphatic
speech, rejected the reproach of his critics and declared that the "Great Leap
Forward" and the People's Commune had brought about more advantages than
disadvantages. Mao threatened an open split:
"If we deserve to perish I shall go away, I shall go to the countryside and lead
the peasants to overthrow the government. If you of the PLA will not follow me,
the I shall find a Red Army. But I believe that the PLA will follow me."
On August 16, 1959, Peng and his followers were condemned as an "anti Party
clique" by a resolution passed by the Eighth Plenum.
On September 17, Peng was dismissed as Defense Minister.
In late 1959, several natural disasters and bad weather condition were reported in
the press. Floods and drought brought about the "three bitter years" of
1959-1962. After 1962, the economy recovered, but the politic was shifting toward
a struggle against revisionism which brought on the Cultural Revolution four years
While Mao was the leader of the CPC, leadership was and still is based on mass
support. The Chairmanship of the CPC before 1979 was similar to the position of
Pope in the Catholic Church, powerful in moral authority but highly circumscribed
in operational power.
The GLF was the product of mass movement, not that of a single person. Mao's
leadership was toward the organization of the Party and it policy formulation
procedures, not the dictation of particular programs.
To describe Mao as a dictator merely reflects an ignorance of the CPC power
structure. The failures of the GLF and the People's Commune were caused more by
implementation flaws rather than conceptual error. Bad luck and US embargo had
also something to do with it.
These programs resulted in much suffering, but the claim that 30 million people
were murdered by Mao with evil intent does not deserve a courteous response.
Henry C.K. Liu